Sen. Nelson again pushes medical pot referendum


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Sen. Terrence Nelson once again is pushing for a ballot referendum involving marijuana, this time to get voters' opinions about legalizing medical marijuana in the territory.

The bill will be heard in the Senate Rules and Judiciary Committee at 9 a.m. Thursday on St. Croix.

Two years ago, in the 29th Legislature, Nelson put forth two measures for ballot referendums on marijuana. One was to ask voters whether they would support legalizing medical marijuana, and the other was to ask voters whether they would support legalizing the production of hemp.

The hemp legislation passed and did make it onto the ballot in November 2012, and 60 percent of those who voted on the referendum voted "yes" to consider legalization of industrial hemp.

Legislation to legalize industrial hemp production in the Virgin Islands is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Agriculture and Planning on Aug. 11, according to Nelson.

The legislation for the medicinal marijuana referendum did not pass out of the Senate, and the question was not on the ballot.

The measure to be considered Thursday is Nelson's second attempt to put a referendum on the General Election ballot in November on medical marijuana.

According to the bill, the referendum question would be: "Should the Legislature enact legislation that allows for the licensing and regulation of medicinal marijuana patients, care-givers, cultivators and distribution centers?"

Voters would be able to check "yes" or "no" to answer the question.

In the bill's whereas clauses, it notes that 21 states already permit the medicinal use and cultivation of marijuana under certain circumstances and 12 more states have pending legislation to legalize medical marijuana.

"The ball is already rolling. It's up to us to just catch it," Nelson said.

He said he hopes his colleagues will support the measure, which is only the first step in the process.

"I'm hopeful that as our society has a better understanding of the medicinal values, that the members of the Legislature have a better understanding as well. This measure is merely asking to put the measure in front of the people," Nelson said.

"The question that's really to be answered by all of us, is are we for helping sick people, or do we prefer to lock them up with murderers, rapists and hard criminals?" Nelson said. "There are sick people in the territory right now who have to illegally acquire marijuana for medical use."

He said Thursday's hearing will include testimony from doctors who administer chemotherapy to cancer patients as well as from investors who understand the economic gains the territory could make from medical marijuana.

Nelson said a lot of people fear that legalizing medical marijuana will create a free-for-all situation in the territory, but it will be regulated by the government.

"Legalized medicinal marijuana does not meant that everyone can grow marijuana and sell marijuana just as they wish," he said.

"I just wish people would realize that this is a credible opportunity for us and stop thinking so narrow-minded about drug use," he said.

A third marijuana-related measure - to decriminalize possession of marijuana - currently is pending in the Senate Committee on Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice.

That bill last was heard in October, when it was held in committee for further review.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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